Blake Wheeler injury should remove Kaapo Kakko from trade talk

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at New York Rangers
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

It was a tense moment at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night, as New York Rangers forward Blake Wheeler went down with what looks to be a serious lower-body injury against the Montreal Canadiens.

After being helped off the ice by several players, Wheeler was taken back on a stretcher to be evaluated by the medical staff. Following the injury, it was announced on Friday that Matt Rempe was recalled from the Hartford Wolf Pack. More information is expected later today.

“It was tough for Blake,” a very somber Peter Laviolette said. “We’ll evaluate it and address it tomorrow. He’s a veteran player that came here for a reason. You see something like that and it’s tough.”

One player that Wheeler’s injury should immediately impact is Kaapo Kakko, who has been rumored to be a trade chip for the Mar. 8th Trade Deadline.

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Blake Wheeler should end Kaapo Kakko trade talk

NHL: New York Rangers at Winnipeg Jets
James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports

First and foremost, we would like to wish Blake Wheeler a quick and full recovery.

At first glance, the biggest implication of losing Wheeler is that the Rangers will almost certainly have to hold on to Kaapo Kakko. Many assumed the young forward would be New York’s biggest trade asset as the deadline approaches. Already having weak depth on the right side, and now without Wheeler, it looks like Kakko is here to stay.

Hanging on to Kakko may just turn out to be a blessing in disguise for New York. In games that Kakko has started and finished, the Rangers hold a record of 25-6-2. In the game he was injured and those he missed, their record is 10-10-1. Putting up points or not, the 23-year-old forward has an undeniable impact on the team’s success.

Of course, losing a veteran presence in Wheeler is not going to be easy for New York going forward. On top of his vast experience, he was able to slot in on the first-line right wing, allowing the rest of the line-up to form some noticeable chemistry over the course of the Rangers’ current six-game win streak.

Specifically, the third line of Cuylle-Brodzinski-Kakko has been playing some very strong hockey. With five points (3G-2A) in his last seven games, Kakko is beginning to ramp up production. Jonny Brodzinski is chipping in offensively, and Will Cuylle just registered his first career multipoint game against Montreal.

It is hard to split this line up now that Blake Wheeler is out of the mix. For the remainder of the game against Montreal, Jimmy Vesey slotted in as the first-line right wing alongside Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. He fit nicely, and the line performed extremely well thanks to Kreider’s hat trick and three points from Zibanejad.

However, Vesey should only be used as a placeholder. He has been effective on the fourth line, and if the Rangers want to make a serious push for a championship, they need a solidified first-line right wing. This will prove to be a difficult acquisition now that Drury is essentially forced to hold on to Kaapo Kakko.

Peter Laviolette and the Rangers coaching staff now have a choice to make. Do they reunite Kakko with Kreider and Zibanejad on the first line, splitting up that dynamic third line? Or do they leave Vesey there until they can bring in a first-line right-winger via trade?

Assuming Laviolette wants to keep the third line intact, here’s an idea of what we can expect the forward lines to look like until a move is made:

Kreider – Zibanejad – Vesey
Panarin – Trocheck – Lafreniere
Cuylle – Brodzinski – Kakko
Edstrom – Goodrow – Rempe/Belzile

With the recent call-up of Matt Rempe, it looks like he will battle with Alex Belzile for the last spot on the fourth line and the chance to play in the Stadium Series against the New York Islanders on Sunday barring a trade. Depending on which route New York’s coaching staff would like to take, it will be a battle between grit and skill for the two call-ups.

In 43 AHL games this season, Rempe has registered 12 points (8G-4A) along with 96 penalty minutes. He would add size and grit to the bottom six. Belzile has more of a scoring touch to his game. In 43 games with the Wolf Pack, he has logged 37 points (14G-23A), and could provide depth scoring at the NHL level.

For Kakko, the goal should be to play the best hockey of his life in the coming weeks. In one moment, he went from being New York’s biggest trade chip, to potentially one of the few options to solve the depth issues on the right side. His play is beginning to heat up at the perfect time. Now, he has the chance to prove that he belongs in New York.

Dane Walsh is a life-long fan of the New York Rangers. Growing up in the tri-state area, Dane has... More about Dane Walsh

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